History

Meet Ramsey Yelvington, the Man Who Was Texas’ First Playwright

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Cemeteries are a great place to enjoy nature and quiet time, as well as some interesting monuments. They are also good places to find snippets of history. One example can be found in San Marcos, at the grave of Leonard Ramsey Yelvington. His headstone states two important points about him: ‘TEXAS’ FIRST PLAYWRIGHT’ and ‘BAPTIST.’

Meet Ramsey Yelvington, the Man Who Was Texas' First Playwright

Photo: envato elements

Born in 1913 in West Point, Texas, Yelvington moved with his family to San Antonio sometime in the 1920s. He attended Howard Payne College, then Baylor University, before leaving to work the Texas radio waves, then joining the United States Army Corps of Engineers. While stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington, he wrote for the base newspaper. He wrote a book called “The Roaring Kleinschmids,” but changed paths to writing plays. Some of his works include “Home to Galveston,” “Cocklebur,” “The Long Gallery,” “Women and Oxen,” “A Cloud of Witnesses,” “Shadow of an Eagle,” “The Folklorist,” and “The Will to Win.” Eventually, he would write 18 full length plays. Late in life, he also published a booklet called “Hill Country Stories.”

Meet Ramsey Yelvington, the Man Who Was Texas' First Playwright

Photo: envato elements

Yelvington was a recipient of Danforth and Rockefeller grants, which led to his formal education completion at Baylor, ultimately receiving a Master of Arts degree. He then became a professor of drama and speech and the playwright-in-residence at what was then Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State University). Legend has it he haunts the “green room” of the Fine Arts Center, as he died two days after his final play opened there.

A married Baptist with two daughters, Yelvington also helped found the Texas Playwright’s Company, then served as president. Ramsey Yelvington was also the nephew of Jane Legette Yelvington McCallum, who was Texas Secretary of State, as well as a key figure in the political landscape. The papers of Ramsey Yelvington can be found at the University of Texas at Austin, Barker Texas History Center, the Margo Jones Collection, and the Southwestern Writers’ Collection at Texas State University at San Marcos.